As the days draw in and the temperatures slip slowly downward, sun through the leaves on an autumn afternoon relieves the sadness of the struggles of life… In fact, even in a world full of pain, there is still joy in the everyday.
West of Sydney are the Blue Mountains, spectacular and of major significance in the history and development of European colonisation of NSW. West of Örebro there is a range of low lying hills which is also sometimes called den blåa bergen – the blue mountains – which is of significance in the history and development of Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries. For Australia the Blue Mountains represented a barrier to westward expansion from the sea, where the colony of Port Jackson had been founded. For Sweden, the blue mountains, being part of Bergslagen, represented rich deposits of iron ore which were of a major source of wealth if only it could be got out of the ground.
But nowadays Örebro’s blue mountains are mainly a recreational area, and yesterday morning in the crisp Spring sunshine I went for a few hours hike up into the hills, in the area around Klockahammar and Lockhyttan, up to one of the most spectacular viewpoints, a rocky outcrop called Rusakulan. I parked the car at Blankhult, where there is a stuga (lodge) for vandrare (hikers) and headed northward along Berglagsleden (the Bergslag trail). The track, mostly dry but in some places muddy, first skirted around a wooded rise, among birches just bursting into leaf. The sun was warm on my shoulders and although the temperature was not more than 5 or 6 degrees I was soon unzipping my cotton jacket to cool down.
A wooden sculpture appeared ahead, vaguely menacing, an image of a woodcutter strategically placed where the trail suddenly dropped steeply down, down into a darkly forested gully, the so called Trolldalen (troll hollow). I read the plaque nailed on the tree stump on which he stood – “Portvakten” – the gatekeeper. I descended the trail, into the forest glade, glimpsing a tiny lake through the trees to my left, and at the bottom crossed a rough bridge of birch trunks over a crystal clear beck. There was not a troll in sight. The lake, I discovered, was one of many dams built some time in the far past to provide a steady water supply for the forest industry surrounding the getting of iron.
The track then climbed through darker woods of towering firs and pines. The forest floor was soft with moss, the track mostly dry, as I hopped over roots and rocks, winding between the endless trees. Another lake appeared on my right – Stora Klockahyttesjön – the water glittering in the morning light. A sign marked the location of a former kolbotten (coal bottom) where once men worked to produce charcoal for the smelting of iron. There were thousands of these dotted throughout Bergslagen at one time in history, when the processing of iron ore required vast quantities of fuel. I tried to imagine the life of a charcoal burner, living out here in the forest, cutting wood, living in a little hut with maybe one companion. These men were crofters – they paid the rent for their croft in charcoal – so this was an important part of their daily existence, but by no means the focus of their lives, which was to produce enough food for their families. The old wooden houses – “torp” – of the crofters are still to be seen all through Kilsbergen, which is the name by which the blue mountains are known here outside Örebro.
Eventually I found the steep winding track up to Rusakulan and climbed panting up and out of the trees to the rocky top. I had not passed another human on the way, but there on the top were two men who had come up by another way, on motorbikes. One of them recognised me – it seemed odd to be greeted by name out there in the middle of the wilderness – and we chatted idly as we gazed out over the vast landscape of the Närke plain. In the distance we could see Örebro and the big lake of Hjälmaren, but closer we spotted the spire of Närkes Kil’s mediaeval village church. Tysslingen lake also glinted in the sun, and all around the fields lay brown and ready for the growing season ahead – a tractor was ploughing with a cloud of dust behind.
I descended the stony knoll on the other side and came eventually back to the track I had come on. Back through the forest and the troll gully, across the whispering beck. Past the gatekeeper I took a different route, upwards over higher country where the forest had been cleared and the land was covered with stumps and new growth. Clusters of tiny white flowers – vitsippor – quivered in the gentle breeze, one of the “signs of spring.” Some old towering pine trees had been left, standing lonely in the barren landscape. I found myself thinking of “lone pines” and battlefields of WW1. It was Anzac Day after all, though no Swedes I had asked knew what that was. I descended to where the car was parked and drove back into town, refreshed and energised by my few hours in the blue hills.
Back in November I wrote a blog about conference centres in Sweden. A week or so ago I stayed overnight at one of the centres I mentioned in that blog. I drove out to Loka Brunn in driving snow, in the darkness of the evening. Loka Brunn is located in a valley between forested ridges. There is a lake on each side, but the water was frozen and the lakes were just wide expanses of snow. The centre has a rather newly built spa centre, but people have been coming here to “take the waters” for over a hundred years. In summer, of course, you can swim in the lakes, but it seems that every time I have been to Loka since my first visit around 5 years ago it has been winter. Loka feels to me a bit like the Narnia depicted in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – a place where it is always winter. The local health authority, which is my employer, often uses Loka Brunn for its educational events. It is a lovely place to spend a few days. But I have not had time to take advantage of the skiing tracks, or even the spa, on recent visits. I did manage a quick stroll around the grounds this time, and got a few pictures of the beautiful surroundings. The house above was the one in which my room was located, with one of the lakes beyond.
Its been a slow start to the winter, the initial cold snap was replaced by the usual rainy darkness of November, the time when Swedes withdraw to their living rooms and watch TV. Its been hard to think of Christmas, life’s too busy, its dark and wet outside and there is this pre-occupation with escape, to anywhere where its warm and sunny… I dream of Provence last summer. We even sat and watched My Father’s Glory (La Gloire de mon père) last weekend, but that didn’t exactly help, even if it brought back happy memories. Of course we dream of Australia too, the beaches and the sunshine, despite the news of bush fires and shark attacks that have hit the Swedish headlines the last few weeks.
Yesterday a storm blew in and now our world is covered with snow, though the forecast is for warmer weather next week, so I suppose it will change to slush. But today is white and calm, the storm has passed, the sky is blue, and the skeletal black of the trees outside my window have lost their harshness and just add to the beauty. I’ll drive Sam to off to innebandy (floor ball) in a few minutes, for a game. Maria’s at work at the hospital, Hanna and Isak are still lying in bed.
Saturday morning, two weeks before Christmas, in middle (lagom) Sweden.
Its grey today, overcast and chilly. But I shouldn’t complain. Its been a perfect Swedish summer and it has pushed on into September, with lots of sunny t-shirt days making cycling to and from work a joy. But just as autumn seems slow to really establish itself, summer was slow in coming. In June the temperatures were struggling to get above 15, and our senses, jaded from a long, bitter cold winter, were longing for sun and warmth. Early June we headed up to Kilsbergen with the canoe and some friends for a barbecue and a paddle. The kids went swimming, but the water was cold. It was peaceful up in the hills, there was no-one around and our voices echoed across the still waters of the lake. It seemed no-one much had noticed that summer had come…